Salt: holy crystals

religion_offeringsIt’s been some time since my last salt post, and while I’ve let other projects take priority, this subject was ever in the back of my mind, as the topic of salt and religion is probably what most influenced my decision to try this series thing out in the first place. Religion is a crucial part of human existence. Of course, there are people who get by just fine without it, but throughout history, religion and faith, in whatever form, has affected people’s lives and governed many societies. And what has always fascinated me about that, is comparatively, all religions serve many of the same purposes. What is just as fascinating is that salt, a simple, flavourful granule of mineral has been revered throughout the centuries and played a key role in many religious ceremonies and rituals.

So, I began to wonder. What is it about these tiny crystals, that even today it so heavily permeates our lives? Throughout history, salt has often been considered an element of purity and one associated with preservation, so it stands to reason that humans have associated salt with sacred spaces and rituals. Pierre Laszlo, author of Salt: Grain of Life, says of salt in religious culture, “It symbolizes immutability. It is a food, or an accompaniment to food, that is incorruptible, that stands for invariance and permanence and thus can be taken for a feature of the devine.” Salt, in its presumed divinity, is a part of nearly every major religion and has been honoured and sanctified in various faiths and cultures across nearly every continent, purifying food, drink, and homes throughout human history. To many societies it was as important as water and therefore valuable for cultural practices and economic development. Here, I can only begin to scratch the very surface of the relationship between salt and religion, but I hope that in the following paragraphs, there is enough information presented that peaks your curiosity as much as mine was.

religion_salt ringKEEPING EVIL AT BAY

Protective salt rings and lines of salt in front of doorways and windows is a common folkloric practice that is used to ward off evil spirits. You may have seen something like this in a movie about ghosts or evil entities. The series Supernatural uses salt when the two protagonists fight spirits and demons. The beings they fight come from all different cultures, and salt is the most common deterrent for the otherworldly beings, including fairies in one episode. According to some European folklore (mainly Scandinavia, Germany, and the British Isles), salt deters fairies because they must count every grain of it if it is spilled in front of them. Also, throwing salt behind you or on your back, or on the back of an animal, will keep a fairy from latching onto you. Rings of salt are also protective measures to keep away spirits and witches or their spells.

Spirits, fairies, and witches aren’t the only evil beings that salt can deter. In West African vodou, which then made it’s way to Haiti, it was believed that feeding salt to a zombie (No, not apocalyptic Walking Dead zombies; zombies that are created by vodou priests) would kill it and release the spirit so it can return to the grave. Salt could not, however, revive the person and bring them back from the dead. Er, undead.

religion_pillarA CULTURAL AND SACRED ELEMENT

With over 30 references to salt throughout the bible, salt has become a common element in Christianity, especially Catholic rituals. One of the earliest stories in which salt is mentioned in the Bible is when Lot’s wife looks back on Sodom and Gomorra and is turned into a pillar of salt because she did not heed the angels’ warning. Covenants in the Bible were often sealed with salt, and even Jesus himself can be said to have high regard for the white substance when he said that people are the “salt of the earth.” Catholic holy water is purified by salt and then blessed by a priest. Salt used to play a major part of a Catholic baptism and was sprinkled on a baby’s lips, along with the usual anointing with the holy water. Most baptisms now just use holy water (which as aforementioned, is already salty). Among some Jewish traditions, there were temple offerings of salt and bread dipped in salt as a remembrance of offerings and covenants.

Sumo WrestlingGreek rituals often consecrated salt and the substance was used as payment for slaves, which is from where historians say the phrase “worth their salt” comes. After a Buddhist funeral, salt is thrown over your shoulder to repel evil spirits and ensure that none have attached themselves to you. Shinto tradition requires salt to purify the ring before a sumo wrestling fight. In India, salt is a symbol of good luck. And the prophet Muhammad once said that God’s four blessings were water, iron, fire, and salt. The Egyptians learned of salt’s preservative characteristics and used it in their mummification processes and also traded with it. In fact, a lot of cultures used salt for trading purposes in addition to ritual usage, but I’ll get to the history of the salt trade in a future post.

Salt worship and adoration was also present in the North and South American cultures. The Zuni tribe of the Pueblo people worshipped a “Salt Mother”  (and Salt Woman, Ma’l Oyattsik’i) who came from a salt lake in New Mexico (now Zuni Salt Lake, which is a holy sanctuary for the Zuni people). The Salt Mother said that all who came to her home, the salt lake, would be healed and would have good fortune. Salt is culturally important to the Zuni who believe it is a gift from the Salt Mother and is a part of her. The Zuni (among other Pueblo tribes like the Hopi, Navajo, Acoma, Laguna, and Apache) used it for healing purposes, seasoned and preserved food with it, traded with it, and used it in various religious ceremonies. One ritual to honor the Salt Woman also removes negative energy and evil spirits from the home by placing salt in a pan and banging the pan to make noise and sprinkle the salt around the home.

religion_aztecSome Southwestern and western native tribes restricted who was allowed to eat salt because it was considered taboo at various times and events in one’s life, such as during menstruation cycles, pregnancy, birth, and initiation rites. The Oneida did not allow boys to eat salt while their voices were changing.

And further south, the Aztecs believed in a goddess, Huixtochiuatl (Lady of Salt) who “symbolized at once salt water, the saltworker’s guild, courtesans, and dissolute women,” (Salt: Grain of Life). Every year, a young woman was sacrificed in her honour as part of a larger annual festival that also honoured other deities.

I KNOW I COULD GO ON . . .

. . . But I shant. I wish I could cover religious salt uses from all over the world, but that deserves more than just one post. And perhaps I will come back to this topic and study the importance of salt continent by continent, as there are some definite tendencies as to how salt was used and honoured across the various countries and cultures. It’s also difficult to stick solely to religion and folklore as many of these people used salt for everyday purposes but also used it in trade and even taxation among their own countrymen. But again, that shall come at a later date. For now, I’ll leave you with these tidbits of information as to how around the world, for centuries, humans have found salt, a simple mineral, to be a crystalline substance of divinity and ritualistic significance.

COMING SOON – surprising ways to use salt

READ MORESalt: an introduction; Salt: what is it and where does it come from; Salt: geological landforms

HELPFUL SOURCESSalt: A Grain of Life; Salt: A World History; Saltworks; Sileonaturalsalt.com; Sacred-texts.com; Wikipedia; Themystica.com

If you have anything to add or wish there was more here, comment below, and you may just be the inspiration needed for me to delve deeper into this topic.

American Horror Story: not impressed

American Horror Story: Murder House (on FX)Directed by Bradley BueckerWritten/Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Jennifer Salt

American Horror Story: Murder House (on FX)
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written/Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Jennifer Salt

[This review contains spoilers]

THE HORROR STORY

The Harmon family moves from Boston to Los Angeles for a fresh new start after Vivien (Connie Britton) miscarries and her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) has an affair with one of his pysch patients. Their daughter, Violet, struggles with school and depression. Within a short few days of living in their new home, each person notices strange things, and each handles it in their own way. They hire a maid who has been caretaker of the house for the last couple decades. To Vivien and Violet, she appears like an old woman, but to Ben, she is a seductive young lady.

After Vivien and Violet are attacked in their own home while Ben is out of town to visit his mistress Hayden (Kate Mara), Vivien wants to move, but they can’t afford to before selling, and no one is willing to buy the house because, as most of the locals already know, it is more commonly known as “Murder House” and is the last stop of a local horror tour.

The action escalates as Violet becomes suicidal and realizes she is in love with a ghost, Vivien has been raped by one, and Hayden, after showing up in LA, is promptly murdered by a man who once lived in the house. It becomes clear that the creepy neighbor lady Constance (Jessica Lange), her son Tate, and the age-changing maid will do anything to save the house from falling into destructive hands, including murdering anyone who stands in their way, leaving them to become ghosts–or not, to ensure they can’t come back to tell the haunting truth.

"Murder House"

“Murder House”

THE HORROR OPINION

I will admit, the first few episodes of American Horror Story grabbed my attention. I wanted to know what the f*** was going on in that house, and the property, and what’s up with the cooky southern bell neighbor? Who are all the ghosts? Why are they there? And why are there so many?

But by the middle of the season I began to lose interest, and at the end I was just wondering, had the writers even looked up anything pertaining to the supernatural? I may have been influenced by the CW show Supernatural and expected a lot of the same rules for ghosts to follow, but while ghosts are a controversial topic and difficult to research, there is popular lore that is usually present in most ghost stories whether they are shows, books, or movies. I’m not saying it’s not okay to have ghosts that don’t make the room cold, or can’t go through walls, or aren’t transparent, or don’t make lights flicker and doors slam. But if you’re going to change paranormal tradition, all I ask is a little consistency and explanation, which is my biggest grievance against this show.

Tate LangdonLet me start with the ghosts. The ghosts who matter can change outfits and do not show death wounds. [SPOILERS] Hayden has bruising on her arm, and sometimes Nora’s head (only in the back) is blown away. But Tate never has bullet wounds, Moira’s eye, although oddly glittery, is intact, and the gay couple do not show signs of death either. However, the two girls in nursing uniforms exhibit bloody stab wounds and one is always wet from the bath she drowned in. Nurse GhostsThe mother and two daughters who burned alive are still burning when we see them. And at the end, Vivien is not all bloody from childbirth. So, which is it? Do ghosts in the house keep their wounds even in death or not? And where do all the different outfits come from for Tate and Hayden to wear? Are they stealing clothes from the current residents? You’d think the family would notice if ghosts were wearing their clothes . . .

And on a side note, why is Moira the only one who has aged, or at least appears to age only to women? Also, some ghosts know they’re dead and others do not and some have been around for over 80 years. Like Nora, who comes to visit the house one day and is shocked at the shiny new appliances, but in flashbacks she has been in the house for years before present day. Did she just completely not see the house changing since 1920 and stayed in the basement? It seemed like the ghosts became super active only when Vivien, Ben and Violet moved in. How convenient. Young and Old Moira

In the vein of ghosts, I had a hard time with the medium in the show. She obviously could sense a ghost, talk to them, even the spirit [SPOILER] of Addy who does not die on the Murder House property but her invisible soul still lingers long enough to talk to the medium who relays the messages to Constance, Addy’s mother. However, the medium has no idea how to expel ghosts. She and Constance believe that Tate doesn’t know he’s dead and that he must realize that so he can let go and move on, but he does know he’s dead, and he doesn’t move on, so there is obviously some hold the house has on the spirits for not letting them go. But later, the medium does come up with one way to expel a ghost. She tells Violet that the only successful time it happened was at Roanoke, when the angry spirits of the dead colonists were expelled by a chieftain who burned the ghosts’ belongings and yelled “Croatoan” three times. Really, American Horror Story? With all the information that is out there, that is the best you can come up with? Whether you believe in ghosts or not, this has to sound like complete bullshit. Granted salting and burning bones, or calling in a priest, or convincing a ghost to move on to the light may sound just as preposterous, but those are at least common theories that some people swear by. Maybe it’s the Supernatural geek in me, but I didn’t buy this for a second, and I thought it weak writing for a story about ghosts. Oh, but the ghosts do listen and will leave you be if you simply yell “Go Away!”.

And don’t even get me started on the ending. I do not believe for a second that Vivien and Violet would have allowed what happened to happen. They weren’t stupid, they weren’t new to how the ghosts in the house acted and what motivated them. It was a weak, unsatisfactory, cop-out ending.

The Harmon Family

For me, what started out as a creepy, mysterious story about a haunted house turned into a lot of over the top drama with inconsistent rules for the supernatural. Call me traditional, but I like some order regarding the paranormal. And the second half of the season just seemed to be murder after murder and the characters became extremely frustrating. I did like the reality of not being able to move out of the house because of the cost; that’s generally overlooked in every other haunted house story. Somehow the affected families are able to just pick up and leave, but not in this case. However, at the same time, all three Harmons were going crazy. They knew they were, and they did nothing and continued to do nothing even when they had the power to save half of their family. Overall, the show had good moments and bad, was entertaining but at times unbearable. And while I can see why some people would absolutely love this show, it turned out to not be for me. I had too much issue with the world the show created and the inconsistencies within it. I may check out season 2 to see if it has improved, but I doubt it.

RATING

2 AutumnrRaindrops (out of 5)

autumnrain-drops2